UTG INTERVIEW: Surrogate

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“So we should do it while we can, to the best of our ability, and hopefully have something to look back on when we’re all real old timers and be proud of what we accomplished way back when.”

Chico, California’s Surrogate is one of UTG’s favorite lesser-known bands and we’re overjoyed to bring you this interview with the (now) four-piece indie rock outfit. Having just released their third full-length effort in a DIY fashion, Surrogate are taking some much deserved time to attend to their adult lives but the impressive offerings from Post-Heroic and their previous efforts are still in constant rotation for us and many other fans.

Bassist Daniel Taylor took some time to speak with us in depth about Surrogate’s new album, their wonderful hometown, and the pros and cons of now being a do-it-yourself band. Please read through the break and enjoy this exclusive Q&A with Surrogate.

It’s been 6 years since the band originally formed. Changes have occurred and we’ll get to those, but how would you say the band has grown over the years individually as musicians and together as Surrogate?
Especially on this new record, it feels like we’ve sort of found our groove, stylistically. Whereas before, we were sort of hunting and pecking, bringing in a little of this, a little of that, it feels like we’re pretty sure of what we are now, although we might not really be sure exactly what to call it. We still definitely dabble; we push the boundaries of what we do, within our sort of stylistic parameters. On this record, there’s some pretty heavy duty doomy-metal drums on one or two songs, there’s sort of a pseudo pop punk vibe on one song, there’s a spacey ambient Album Leaf/Mogwai post-rock song. But it feels like all of the songs sound like us, if that makes any sense. Which is I think at least partially due to just playing with one another for a number of years, playing shows, making records. I guess we feel really comfortable being ourselves now, as opposed to maybe subconsciously trying to be somebody else. I think that also comes with all over being a little bit older these days. I’m 32, which is like 62 in band years. So I think, at least for me personally and I’d imagine for some of the other guys, it’s become less about pleasing somebody else and more about making something that pleases ourselves.

Since leaving Tooth and Nail a couple years back, how has the experience of now being a DIY band affected you guys?
It’s been cool in the sense of we can sort of choose our own adventure; we’re free to operate on our own timelines, and do things when and how we want. We have a neat little studio here in Chico, and lucky for us, Chris is an amazing producer and engineer, so we don’t really need much in terms of someone else telling us what to do or how to do it, and we don’t really need anyone else’s money to get done what we need to get done, although that would certainly make it easier in some respects. But doing ourselves has sort of liberated us to sink or swim on our own, and it’s definitely reinforced that we’re doing what we’re doing for the right reasons, because we enjoy doing it, and not because there is some idea of pecuniary largess waiting at the end of a record cycle, or some potential for a grand payoff being dangled in front of us.

The downside of it though, is that it sort of marginalizes what you do, because there’s not the credibility of being on a label, or the push that a label gives you to help you breakthrough to press and blogs. So you kind of get lumped in with the unwashed masses of bedroom bands and high school garage bands, which is fine: there’s a lot of amazing music being made these days in bedrooms and by teenagers in garages. But in terms of trying to gain any sort of broad exposure for your band, especially when your band is just a bunch of late-20s/early-30s beardos, not having a label to hang your hat on makes it near impossible to really get anything cooking on the publicity side, in the absence of being able to spend the money to do it yourself. Overall, though, it’s been worth the downside to be able to just do what we do when we want to do it.

Post-Heroic just dropped this month and it’s a killer album. Can you explain the album title and the cover art in relation to its content?
Thanks man. The title was something that Chris heard on the radio one day, in a discussion about the state of modern warfare, about how with drones and computers and all the technology that the military uses in modern warfare, that we were entering a “post-heroic era,” which inspired the song of the same name and seemed like a good over-arching theme for the entire record.

The cover art was done by our friend Oliver Hutton, who is an amazing graphic designer. It was actually based on a painting he had purchased at an auction, called “The Great Conemaugh-Valley Disaster-Flood & Fire and Johnstown, PA, Friday May 31st 1889.” He thought, and we agreed, that it was a pretty fitting representation of the nebulous post-heroism theme we were working with on the record, that the idea of the “hero” was a sort of antiquated concept that the modern world has dispensed with. Plus it was just a really badass painting.

How would you say the album differs from your previous releases? And is Post-Heroic your best effort to date?
I think we would all agree that this record is our best combined effort so far. There are definitely songs on the other records that might be in the mix for the best song, but taken on the whole, this record just seems to be the most cohesive, cogent representation of Surrogate. It also, at least to me, most closely resembles how we sound live, mainly by virtue of how we recorded it. It also of course differs in that it’s our first record without Jordan on the drums, so the drums are a lot more rudimentary for the most part, than on the previous records, due to the fact that none of us are even half as good of a drummer as Jordan is. But I think in the end, that just helped make Chris’ songs, which have always been the real driver behind Surrogate, stand out even more.

Since Popular Mechanics and the Diamonds and Pearls EP, what inspirations had come into your lives that helped shape what Post-Heroic came to be?
I think we’ve all just grown up a lot, partially by choice and partially by being dragged kicking and screaming. I would certainly fall into the latter category more so than some of the other guys. But as a whole, we’ve all had to face either being in our 30s or rapidly approaching our 30s and everything that comes with it: families, houses, responsibility, hangovers. I think it’s shaped our music in the sense that I talked about above, in that we do it now for ourselves as much as we do for anybody else. I also think it’s shaped our music in that we realize that it’s a time-sensitive thing, that we can’t do this forever. So we should do it while we can, to the best of our ability, and hopefully have something to look back on when we’re all real old timers and be proud of what we accomplished way back when. As silly as it seems to be thinking of that kind of stuff while writing sort of standard indie pop songs, for us, we’ve all lived, ate, breathed, slept and shit music and bands since we were kids, so it’s important to us. That’s been present in all of the records, but while recording this record I think we were all much more aware of it, consciously as opposed to just semi-subconciously. So we recorded with sort of a renewed vigor. We were all involved as much as time would allow in even the most minor things, hanging out while people were tracking, e-mailing around, texting each other at all hours and driving each others’ wives and girlfriends nuts. It just felt like we all realized, especially after Jordan had to bow out, that you never really know what record will be the last record, so you should probably make it count while you can.

As you mentioned to me about my interview with Donovan [Melero], I always like to touch a bit on Chico as it’s such a beautiful town with a great community. Would you say that Chico has had any particular affect on Surrogate’s music?
Surrogate is definitely a Chico band. We had our CD release at a bar! I don’t think there are a lot of bands doing what we do who would have a record release show that is 21+, but that’s kind of Chico for you. There’s really not a lot of places to get out and play, so you make do with what you have, which luckily for us are a couple really awesome venues, and a lot of amazing bands that are at least nominally from here — like Donovan’s band, Hail the Sun, Number One Gun, The Shimmies, Armed for Apocalypse, Cold Blue Mountain, Amarok, Brighten — all of whom are making music on a national level, but are also just playing fun shows for each other and our friends in this little college town in the middle of nowhere more or less. But for its size there’s an amazing amount of talent, per capita. And since not a whole hell of a lot of touring bands come through, we end up seeing each other play a lot more than we ever end up seeing anyone else, so we end up stealing tricks from each other, stealing and borrowing members from each other and just influencing each other more than we probably realize.

What are some of your guys’ favorite things to do there? Favorite place to drink, relax, eat, etc?
We tend to convene our band meetings at Duffy’s, which is one of our favorite bars, and one of our favorite places to play, when we can. We had our CD release show at a bar called LaSalle’s, which has definitely become our go-to spot to play shows. Shows there are just an old fashioned blow-out good time; the bartenders send trays of whiskey to us on stage, which is definitely the most direct way to our hearts. As far as food goes, our studio happens to be very close to arguably one of Chico’s better burrito spots (since there are a lot of amazing ones), Aca Taco, so this album was in no small part fueled by chicken burritos from Aca and whatever beer was on the Club Card special at Safeway. As far as relaxing, Chico is pretty much relaxed anywhere you go, so pretty much wherever you go here, there you are.

Aca Taco is perfect. Best burrito I’ve ever had. Anyway, in the 4+ years I lived in Chico, I somehow managed to never see you guys live. Do you play in the area often?
We play around here as often as we can, which is a whole lot less now that we don’t really have a drummer, full-time. But it kind of helps make the shows that we do play that much more awesome. Also there’s always the risk, especially around here, that you play too much and make all your friends secretly despise you. Being that our last show before our CD release show was 8 months before, and our next Chico show is who knows when, I think we’re safe on that front for now.

This is unrelated, but from doing a little poking around, I get the sense that you guys are fans of Breaking Bad. What are some of your other favorite shows?
We are all big time TV/Movie nerds. Daniel Martin our keyboard player even has a Star Wars tattoo. I know Chris and I are both super into Game of Thrones right now; that show is pretty awesome. I’m not really even a huge fantasy guy, but that show just transcends the fantasy genre on account of how good the stories, and the acting, and just the presentation are. Probably my biggest television guilty pleasure though is Downton Abbey. I’ve always been a sucker for those Emma Thompson-type butlers falling in love with head mistress dry English romance flicks and that show is like an awesome version of that movie, every week.

Okay, back on track. Now that Post-Heroic has released, what’s the next move for Surrogate?
Probably just sort of resting on our laurels. We are playing the Davis Music Festival in Davis in June, but other than that we’re taking the summer pretty much off. We are definitely working on getting Post-Heroic released on vinyl in the near future though. We’ve talked about it with other records, but that’s something we’re definitely going to do this time around. We’re hoping to find someone to partner up with for it, a vinyl label or someone who’s into doing a short run, but barring that we’ll probably just find a way to do it ourselves, since that’s sort of our thing these days.

I was rather surprised to find that you guys have roughly 2,300 fans on Facebook. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I just feel that your music warrants a much larger fanbase. Do you feel that maybe more effort needs to be put into reaching new listeners? And do you feel that this album could be the veritable spark that ignites that flame?
I think this album definitely has a good chance of being one that breaks us into a new fan base, and trust me when I say that we’re putting effort into it: I stay up into the wee hours of the night, after work, after class, and hit up blogs, pitch our new CD to writers, trying to get something going to try to get us some fresh ears. But it’s tough, with all the competition, and like I said above, when you’re just another band putting out your own records, with no easy handle to attach (on so-and-so label, on tour with BIG NAME ACT) there’s no real reason for a writer to pick our e-mail out of the 30 pitches he got last night and take the time to download our record and discover that it’s actually good. So in the meantime, people are discovering us on their own, through Pandora, through Spotify, through people posting our songs on their Tumblrs or their Facebooks. It;s a steady trickle, but to us, the fact that 2,300 people care enough about our band to like us on Facebook is pretty astounding. The fact that I’ve shipped CDs to Europe, to Canada, to every state over the last couple of weeks still blows my mind. So we’re not crying ourselves to sleep because of our fanbase. To us, that anybody cares at all is a victory, everything else is just icing on the cake. That being said, we are definitely doing what we can to try to get out there and make some new friends. If you’re reading this and you’re not our friend on Twitter or Facebook, come check us out! We don’t bite…hard.

I see that you do in fact interact with your fans on your social networks though. What importance do you find in maintaining that relationship with your followers?
We make it a point to interact as much as we can with the people who take the time to say “what’s up?” on social media, because like I said above, the fact that anybody outside our friends and our families gives a crap about the music we make is still pretty awesome to us. And that someone would take the time to not just listen to our music, but write to us and tell us they dig it, or that they like they new record, or this song or that song, it’s the least we can do. Also, it’s just a great way to meet rad people.

Outside of being in Surrogate, what do you guys have going on in your lives?
We all have our various jobs going. Chris works at a big website that’s based in Chico called Build.com. Daniel M. is a school teacher. Michael is something of an entrepreneur and has his hands in several pies. I work at an awesome men’s clothing website called TruckerDeluxe. I also am just wrapping up my last semester of law school, and I take the bar exam this July so that’s kind of another reason why this summer is pretty light on the shows for us; I’ll be locked in a bar prep prison for the better part of the summer. We also all have our own music going on outside of the band. Chris plays solo and records other bands when he can. One of the bands he actually recording next is a band I play drums in called Cold Blue Mountain, which is sort of a doom/sludge metal band. Michael is getting married this summer, and Daniel Martin just bought a house in Chico with his wife. So we all have a full plate of life, outside of the band, for sure. Which makes the band that much more fun when we can focus on it like we were able to do for the first few months of this year, recording the new record.

As you’ve stated, you now no longer have a permanent drummer. I read that you each took turns on drums while recording Post-Heroic? How did that process go and how’s it looking on getting a new drummer?
Yeah we are still playing it by ear on the drummer situation. Our friend Joe from the band We Shot The Moon came down and rocked the drums for our CD release show which was awesome, and we’d definitely love to play with him more in the future, but he’s about 8 hours away in Portland so it’s pretty tough to make it work on any sort of regular basis.

As far as the drums on the record, all four of us have at one time been drummers in bands so it wasn’t as much of a stretch as it might seem for us to just do it ourselves. Like I mentioned, we all pale in comparison to Jordan, who is probably one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen, let alone been lucky enough to play with, but it ended up being kind of a good way of shaking things up for us a bit, songwriting and composition-wise. And it allowed us to let Chris’ melodies and his lyrics take more of the fore, which I think helped the songs a great deal. Not to mention it was just really fun to do. I got to play the drums on “Post-Heroic,” which is one of my favorite Surrogate songs of all time, and just to be able to kind of take even more of an active part in bringing Chris’ vision for that song to life made the process even more awesome to be a part of than it already was. And not knowing who was going to play which song, when we were putting together the songs and getting ready to record them, it ended up being kind of awesome because we all came to the table with ideas for drum lines, or rhythms or little fills here and there, and then just ended up sort of asking each other who thought they could do it best, as opposed to everyone just sticking with paying attention to covering their own parts on their own instruments.

We’re trying to figure out, long term, what we’re going to do about a drummer. But in the meantime we will probably just take advantage of the amazing drummers that we already know, like Joe, to fill in as needed, until we find the right fit.

So are we gonna grab some drinks next time I come up to visit?
DEFINITELY. Seriously hit me up any time. I’d love to meet you IRL, as the kids say these days.


Watch the official music video for “Lovers” from Post-Heroic.

 
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter
Photo credit: Kyle Forrest Burns

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